“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” is one of the best films of this rich year. For once, the awards hype is justified. It’s a thrill ride through the unimaginable violence that plagues the small town of Ebbing, Missouri after a young girl is raped, as she is murdered, then set on fire. “Three Billboards…” is going to set the Awards season on fire, too. It will get many,many nominations.
Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell are giving the performances of their careers, but I feel it’s Rockwell who’s going to carry home the gold. He’s been put in the category of Best Supporting Actor, though he’s arguably the co-lead. And he’s already been nominated for a Golden Globe and a SAG award. As has Frances, as has McDonagh.
I’ve been following Sam’s career since he was an Off Broadway actor, and he’s certainly a veteran now and has a role that is thrilling in its range and demands. As a small town cop, he has to be funny. He has to be a bit of a stooge and a stumblebum. And when the film turns dark, he has to go there, too,Oscar Winner Frances McDormand ( For “Fargo”) deserves the accolades that have been accruing to her powerful Mildred Hayes, the mother of the murdered girl. In a totally vanity-free performance, she dominates the screen so powerfully that you’ll never forget that clenched teeth, firmly set jaw, that uncompromised stare as she tries to find out who killed her teenaged daughter.
She astonishes in this film as a woman who can’t smile. She puts up these three billboards in a part of town where her daughter was killed accusing the police of doing nothing to find her the killer. And grief is making her look like a death’s head herself.Everyone in this town seems cut from the cloth of the Confederacy to put it mildly. And any of them could have done it. Especially a member of the Police Force.
Woody Harrelson is once again on hand to provide a firm grounding in ominous white cracker-dom at the outset. His battle with terminal cancer forms the second plot line that I won’t spoil here. But he’s great, too. Both he and his co-hort Rockwell, are both headed to the Oscars, and so is McDormand.But I wonder if the totally de-glammed McDormand is going to be any match for the younger and more comely superstars like Soirse Ronan. Sally Jenkins of “The Shape of Water” is more sympathetic and she’s mute. So Frances has some fierce competition in that category. She’s uncompromising. She’s great. But she has an Oscar already and Saoirse and Sally and even Michelle Williams or Annette Bening are all Oscar free…so far…
But ah! There is that Oscar golden moment for Frances when she encounters a free-ranging doe when she is tending a flowerbox she has placed near her dead daughter’s billboards. The look they share, eye to eye, female to female animal, is one of the few moments we see Mildred smile in this corrosive movie, you will NOT be able to stop thinking about.
Also the thrilling depths and layers that McDonagh has given Rockwell to play. He starts out as a crispy-crème, donut-chomping bigot. But he CHANGES. I can’t say how, but in the creation of Dixon, a co-lead to McDormand’s angry Mildred, he matches her beat for beat in VERY unexpected and powerful ways. He lives at home with his mother, who is always drunk. The Dear Readers of this blog can infer more…But what a complicated, stupendous role he’s written for Rockwell, who has never had a part this good since he debuted to much acclaim in “Box of Moonlight” in 1996. Unbelievably this prince of American actors has never even been nominated for an Oscar. Yet.
Even writer-director Martin McDonagh has an Oscar for a short he did. He’s certainly going to get a double nomination for both directing and original screenplay, and he’s going to up against Girl-Of-the-Hour Greta Gerwig in both categories for “Lady Bird.”
It’s going to be a very suspenseful Oscar night indeed. But I feel “Three Billboards” is such an IMPORTANT film, that they are going to give it Something Big, and that Something may very well be Sam Rockwell. as the irascible, temperamental, complicated drunk of a cop. That’s just him in the FIRST half of “Three Billboards…” The twists are UNBELIEVABLE, and it’s Sam’s character who gets to play all that juicy jazz as the plot and his character’s place in it unravel. He’s all but unbeatable. What a range McDonagh has allowed him to show!
The ubiquitous and wonderful Lucas Hedges, Oscar nominee of “Manchester by the Sea” is here, too, as McDormand’s bewildered, but compassionate son. In a moment of peak at the breakfast table, she lobs Fruit Loops at him.
He’s in “Lady Bird,” too as Saoirse Ronan’s high school boyfriend. And Peter Dinklage perks up the last third of the film as the town’s only human, a small person who is not small inside, a midget, who befriends and helps McDormand in her fight against the lacksadaisical, if not downright indifferent, police “force.”
Their dinner date is a superb piece of comic timing. Yes,”Three Billboards” is darkly funny, too. This tragic tale of loss and corruption has an excellent sense of humor, too. In fact, it made me feel like I was watching a new Coen Brothers movie. The resemblance to their black humor and influence is definitely wonderfully there.
Irish playwright par excellence McDonagh, has fully made the unbelievable transition to American crime filmmaker. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” thrilled me to my core with its wit, drama and intense originality.